The day and Night of Goma : My Journey through Mt Nyiragongo’s 2020 eruption and the DRC-Rwanda Conflict


Kenaya Komba

Picture yourself in Goma, a vibrant city in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Beyond the bustling streets, a remarkable story of resilience and hope unfolds in the heart of this community.For those unfamiliar with the city of Goma, it is the capital of the North Kivu province in the Eastern part of the DRC. It is a touristic city where the border between Congo and Rwanda is located. It is also home to the Republic volcano, Mt. Nyiragongo, and has witnessed the war between Rwanda and Congo. I'm a native of Goma, I grew up there, witnessing volcanic eruptions and how war destroys families and decimates the population. We constantly live in fear and trauma due to insecurities. While often associated with armed conflict and volcanic eruptions This city has seen its share of challenges, from volcanic eruptions to conflict, yet it continues to stand tall. As someone who grew up here, I want to shed light on the unique aspects of Goma and share my personal experiences.

I can still vividly recall those fateful evenings. For several days, there were ominous signs: earthquakes shaking the ground, and people hurriedly leaving the city. The well-off headed to Kinshasa, the capital of DRC, while others made their way to Lubumbashi. Then, flights were suspended, and people rushed to make their way to Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu Province. Even the option of taking a boat to Bukavu was swiftly taken off the table due to the rise of gas in the lake before we could consider it as an option things had already degenerated, my aunt, who was visiting us at the time, managed to catch the last boat to her home in Bukavu with her children. Our mother, stranded for a month in Kinshasa, was gripped by fear and uncertainty. Our younger brothers, all under 8 years old, had no proper identification papers except my sister and I, who had passports just in case. Every night, we slept outside with our landlord's children, fearing our houses would collapse due to the tremors. The children slept in cars while we kept watch all night long. Our only respite was during the day when the tremors subsided a bit. We managed to find some solace by running around within our premises.

Our mother, unable to return, was left with only my sister and me. We were in our final year of high school and suddenly thrust into the role of caregivers for our younger siblings despite considering ourselves still young. I remember the nights when I cried, fearing the worst, imagining that it was the end, and our mother wasn't even with us. The Internet was cut off, and acquiring phone credit was a challenge with most small vendors and shops closed. Unlike the mobile payment systems like M-PESA which we are accustomed to, it's different in Congo where people use cash everywhere. But by the grace of God, we always found ways to contact our mother and reassure her. She spent her days crying and praying. Her weight dropped dramatically. However, she found comfort in knowing we were together, in a two-story house where we occupied the upper floor, with our landlord below. She knew we were taking care of each other. Some nights, we played music on a speaker, danced, and laughed. We played card games to pass the time, and whenever possible, I would send messages to reassure our mother.

Things were slowly getting better, and we were adapting to the situation until that one evening 22 May 2021 when the tables changed on us. We were all asleep in our landlord's living room when we heard the alarm and alert. The tremors had intensified. We rushed outside, checked our phones, and learned that the government ordered the evacuation of the entire city. It was 4 a.m., and we had nothing with us except the clothes on our backs. We had distant relatives who were not in an evacuation zone and were moderately well-off. So around 5 a.m., we reached our mother, who was still in Kinshasa, and she called that uncle, pleading for his help. He proposed taking care of our four younger brothers while my sister and I figured out how to survive on our own. He claimed to have too many people already and couldn't accommodate us all. Around 6 a.m., he came to pick up the younger ones. My sister and I, fortunate to have passports, grabbed a few clothes and headed to Rwanda. It was the first traumatic volcanic experience of our lives.

You might think it was tough, and it's unimaginable for some, However, my family and I are among the fortunate ones. The eruption consumed many lives, shattered homes, stole jobs, and destroyed possessions. Despite everything. A few weeks later, life had returned to a semblance of normalcy. Yet, this volcanic experience is nothing compared to what the military conflict and ethnic war between Congo and Rwanda make us live. Since 1996, conflict in eastern DRC has led to approximately six million deaths.

One of the most significant rebel groups to emerge in the early 2000s was known as the March 23 Movement (M23), primarily composed of ethnic Tutsis. Between 2012 and 2013, M23 became an undeniable force in eastern DRC, and Kinshasa accused Kigali of supporting the group Rebels. In 2013, the United Nations Security Council authorized a rare offensive brigade under the mandate of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) to support the Congolese army in its fight against M23. MONUSCO proved effective in its support of the Congolese army, and M23 canceled its initial campaign in 2013. Other hotspots have emerged over the past two decades in the border states between Congo and Rwanda, such as Ituri, often involving ethnic and militant groups with disputes tracing back to the Congo wars. The 21st century has brought one more complication to peace efforts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the proliferation of mining operations.

The DRC hosts some of the world's largest reserves of metals and rare earth minerals used in advanced electronics production. As the world has become more dependent than ever on cobalt, copper, zinc, and other minerals, foreign actors, multinational corporations, and local armed groups have become increasingly incentivised to become involved in the Congolese conflict.[1] The conflict between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has had profound impacts on children born to Congolese and Rwandan parents, often referred to as "border children" due to their mixed heritage and birth in border areas. Thousands and thousands of people have been killed and continue to be killed. Women are being violated, villages are seized, and these rebels (M23) have been in Congo for a long time now. They have taken women, some as hostages and others willingly. During this war, children were conceived, not to mention the women who willingly married Rwandans during the same period.

Congolese, tired of seeing their civilian and military families being killed every day by the rebel group M23, without any change or solution, began to take justice into their own hands by killing, torturing, and mutilating anyone with even distant ties to Rwandans in Congo, be it children, women, and men. It has become dangerous in the Goma to publicly admit to having Rwandan blood; it's a sin that's punished by death.So, 90% of my friends and classmates just didn't know that I also had Rwandan blood. I remember that at school, people used to ask me how I could have family on the other side of the border. Or when they saw me with cousins who were 100% Rwandan, they either didn't believe we were related, or I would tell them that a member of my family had married a Rwandese, and that's how we became related. My Rwandan family members almost all lived in Rwanda, and the few aunts who lived in Goma spent most of their time in Rwanda or worked there. So, it was a bit challenging to build connections.

I remember that in 2013, we decided it was too much to live like that, and our mom said it was our right to get to know our other family and understand our identity, so we organized a ceremony, in Congo of course, and everyone came. We got to know each other, and since then, we've become very close. So, today, I proudly proclaim that I am just as Congolese as I am Rwandan, and proud of it. This is largely thanks to them.

Out of all my siblings, I was the one who took on more Rwandan traits than Congolese. My mother always protected me, and my maternal aunts sometimes teased me with a Rwandan nickname to remind me of who I was. At first, I felt marginalised and unloved. I took it as an insult and thought that they liked my older sister more than they would ever like me. As I mentioned above, being Rwandan in Goma became a crime. Every time there were demonstrations, I still remember hearing my mother's voice crying on the phone, telling me and my sister to stay hidden at school until things calmed down.

I went to visit my family in the past because I missed them. It was the first time that I had spent 1 year without seeing my family since August 2022 when I come to study in Kenya . So, I returned to the country. When I arrived at the airport, my aunts came to pick me up, my mother and my sister. While we were on the way home, we passed a roundabout in the city center, and there I saw photos displayed outdoors by the government, women, children, and men killed and tortured by the M23 rebels in slightly more distant neighbourhoods. I burst into tears. I promise you couldn't look at these images without shedding tears; it was horrendous. And then, a few kilometers further, my sister told me that a neighbour of ours who was Rwandan had been killed a few nights before by bandits, apparently because she was Rwandan. She showed me photos of several Rwandans killed in front of their homes, just because the population said they were tired of seeing their brothers and sisters, friends killed by the M23.

My maternal little cousins (Congolese) immediately started closing their eyes when we arrived in the city center. So, after arriving home, I asked them why they were so scared and trembling like that, and they replied that it was because there, at the roundabout, there were photos of children killed by Rwandans, and they didn't want to be killed by those same Rwandans. My heart melted when I heard the hatred that we had given to them, even though they weren't even in primary school.

I stayed locked in the house for 89% of my stay, and the day before I was supposed to return to Kenya, while I had gone to visit an aunt, my mother called me and in a worried voice told me to stay at my aunt's place and not go home because they had announced that there would be demonstrations, and during the demonstrations, people with even a small Rwandan trait were being killed. So, I stayed at my aunt's place, and the next day I couldn't travel. Over 50 civilians were killed that day (Rwandans and Congolese) while trying to protest for the United Nations (UN) to leave the city.

So, I missed my flight and came four days later with a heavy heart from seeing all these people killing each other when we were all Africans and brothers, weren't we? Don't I have the right to feel at home in Goma as well as in Rwanda? Don't I have the right to live in safety all because I had the grace, not to say the misfortune, of being born Rwandan and Congolese? I fell in love with Goma after all and I feel like we have suffered a lot now when it is not the volcano that is destroying the city, it is the war and ethnic conflict.… And yet we always get up and start again.

Since my birth, this city has only experienced war and volcanic eruptions, but remains the tourist city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Exquisite. Painful. Horrific. Most amazing crops are part of the history of this city. By sharing my personal experiences and highlighting the negative aspects of Goma, I hope to contribute to changing the often simplistic perceptions of this city. Whether you are a native of Goma, an intrepid traveler, or simply curious, I invite you to immerse yourself in this fascinating city and discover all the wonders it has to offer.

We are the new government, we are the new DRC, we are the new Rwanda, We are innocent, yet nourished by such deep hatred and fear towards ourselves.

I want to serve as a bridge between those two worlds. I call homes to facilitate a fair exchange between those two contrasting worlds becoming powerful ones and balance is reinstalled. It's not about peace, it's about peace today. Invite you to change your perspective on your visions of a brighter world, never lack, see abundance, always everywhere, and watch the universe conspire, don't focus on problems but on the solution, remember our perception of any given situation is the only thing that determines Who we are. I am Kembo Na Yahweh Komba and I come from the richest country in the world. It is located in the richest continent in the world in the center of the richest continental countries. We are blessed with infinite beauty and abundance. I am Congolese, and I am Rwandan too, but first of all, I'm African and I believe in one Africa. Thank you for Reading. Looking forward to reconnecting with you.

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